Lawmakers brief wind backers on energy bill considerations

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BOSTON, FEB. 29, 2016…..Cost control will continue to be a driving consideration for House leaders as they work to craft a multi-pronged energy bill in an election year when the potential political impact of their choices could affect support on Beacon Hill, House leaders told an audience of offshore wind industry leaders on Monday.

“We can’t come in with a cost that’s going to be a bit of a shock,” House Majority Ronald Mariano said, reminding the conference of offshore wind stakeholders “this is an election year for all of us.”

Five House members and one senator took part in a panel talk on Monday at the 2016 U.S. Offshore Wind Leadership Conference at the Intercontinental Hotel on the downtown Boston waterfront.

The lawmakers were there to discuss a trip to Denmark last September to view a large-scale offshore wind farm but also used the opportunity to temper expectations among offshore wind supporters about what might be possible in a bill that’s expected to emerge later this year.

Rep. Thomas Golden, who co-chairs the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the omnibus bill could contain elements of hydroelectric, wind, gas and solar as Massachusetts looks to diversify its energy mix and incorporate new renewables to offset the impending losses of power from coal and nuclear plants.

Gov. Charlie Baker has filed legislation to facilitate long-term contracts for imported hydropower, but has signaled a willingness to accept offshore wind if it proves cost competitive. Energy Secretary Matthew Beaton is scheduled to address the conference on Tuesday.

“There are so many mitigating factors involved here that you need to understand this may not look like a bill that you’d love, but hopefully it’s a bill that you can like and work with us going forward,” Mariano said.

“And we can always change it in the Senate,” Sen. Marc Pacheco quipped.

Golden would not commit to timetable for producing the energy legislation, but would not rule out the possibility that solar incentives, which have been before a conference committee since November, would carry over into the broader debate.

Golden said he could not comment on solar negotiations with the Senate, but said the committee continues to meet. Mariano added, “I’m not privy to the negotiations but I do know that there’s been indications that progress is being made.”

Rep. Patricia Haddad, who has filed legislation to promote offshore wind development and called 2,000 megawatts the “magic number” to be included in any bill, also tried to manage the expectations of renewable energy stalwarts.

“I understand that people aren’t going to like this, but we need some gas going forward,” the Somerset Democrat said.

Mariano also spoke about trying to craft a bill that will enable the state to meet its renewable energy and carbon emission reduction goals without alienating business leaders already concerned about high energy costs.

“It’s a balancing act,” Mariano told reporters after the event. “If hydro comes in at one price per kilowatt hour, wind comes in higher because of high infrastructure costs, you got to balance this thing out. It’s not as simple as saying we’re going to give you 2,000 megawatts of wind because that could blow out the cost per kilowatt hour, and then I’m looking for a job, nevermind the poor wind people.”

Thomas Brostrom, North American general manager for DONG Energy, said he was not discouraged by the message from lawmakers, contending that offshore wind can be a piece of the energy solution for Massachusetts. DONG Energy holds a lease for the development of wind energy in federal waters off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, and recently agreed to acquire more ocean territory off New Jersey.

“I think it’s fair to say you have to look at cost and I think we can make a pretty good case for offshore wind, so I’m pretty encouraged by what I heard in there,” Brostrom said, describing the price of wind as “in the zone” once the industry can be scaled up, as it is in Europe.

Describing her conversion from the “queen of coal” when her district was home to two coal plants to the “witch of wind,” Haddad moderated a discussion with her colleagues about their trip to Denmark, including allusions to off-color jokes made about the Danish offshore developer DONG Energy and Mariano’s recently replaced knee.

“What did I get out of my trip to Denmark? Well, I have a new knee,” he said to laughter from his colleagues, blaming his injury on “some genius who booked me on the fourth floor of a hotel that didn’t have an elevator and didn’t have bell service.” Though Rep. James O’Day said he ended up carrying Mariano’s bags the rest of the trip, he said the majority leader “tipped me out well.”

Rep. Sarah Peake, a Provincetown Democrat and member of House leadership, said she gained an appreciation for what a large-scale wind farm might look like 10 miles offshore. “I am excited by the process of how we can leverage this into good Massachusetts-based jobs,” Peake said.

Rep. O’Day, a Worcester-area Democrat, said he was also interested in the potential for growing a new industry that his district, with a foundation of precision manufacturing, could benefit from.

As one of the unabashed supporters of offshore wind development on Beacon Hill, Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who had travelled to Denmark before, described the rush to wind as a kind of arms race with other New England states for jobs and energy.

Pacheco said Denmark was a country that got over 90 percent of its energy from oil and gas before making a commitment to wind and other renewables. Massachusetts, he said, could double the number of clean energy jobs in the state “if we work this the right way.”

“I want and Pat wants and I’m sure we all want Massachusetts to be the leader, not New York or another state within New Enlgand, and for us to be the lead we have to act first,” Pacheco said.

Mariano, of Quincy, said he knew little about offshore wind when he agreed to go on the trip, but admitted to a self-serving interest in learning more because of the potential to bring turbine manufacturing to a former shipyard in his home city.

After hearing “apocryphal stories about Cape Wind,” Mariano said, “What I saw was night and day from what I had imagined this project would look like and I was very, very much impressed by the technologies that were being used.”

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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